Foucault's Madness and Civilisation (1964)
of madness was not written from a psychiatric, or even a scientific
viewpoint, but rather as a study of madness itself and how it was
We must try to return in history to that "zero point"
in the course of madness when it was suddenly separated from reason
- both in the confinement of the insane and in the conceptual isolation
of madness from reason as unreason.
He delineated madness as as an object of perception within a "social
space," an object structured in different ways according to
historical specificity, an object of perception produced by the
social practices at work.
He traced the history of madness through four distinct phases, from
the mediaeval notion of madness as a kind of chaotic natural force
exiting outside man and derived from Biblical concepts such as God's
will, Satan and the end of time and the world and enacted in Miracle
plays and mimes. During the second phase, the Renaissance, madness
began to depicted through literature, philosophy and art as something
which existed in man. Madness retained a symbolic public role, epitomised
by the figure of the Fool, who could subvert reason with folly -
demonstrating the madness of reason itself.
The classical age (roughly 1650 - 1800) effectively silenced the
madness that had been given imaginary freedom in the Renaissance,
as the confinement of lunatics became a common practice.
Confinement is the practice which corresponds most exactly to madness
experienced as unreason, that is, as the empty negativity of reason.
By confinement, madness is acknowledged to be nothing.
Often little or no distinction was made between criminals, beggars
and the insane - as the reason for confinement was primarily economic
in an age where work equated to redemption and idleness to rebellion.
The relationship of the classical age to madness was an ambivalent
one, where mad family members were considered a subject of shame
and scandal and were hidden away in asylums, yet those same asylums
exhibited their inmates. At the Bethlehem hospital in London the
lunatics were displayed to almost 100,000 people a year. Madness
had once been mimed, yet now it was presented as inscribed in flesh
and blood - no longer a monster arising inside oneself, but a thing
to look at, to study and contain. Madness was no represented a Fall
from divine grace, but a social failure, where the asylum mirrored
the bourgeois authoritarian order.
The fourth and final phase of the history of madness is the twentieth
century, the age of Freud and psychoanalysis. Freud, according to
Foucault, abolished the regime of silence employed by the asylumists
and made the mad talk. Yet that talk was mediated by the analyst,
the omnipotent and quasi-divine medical figure - psychiatric language
did not allow madness to speak, but remained a monologue of reason
For Foucault, the only way for madness to live "in itself",
outside of the confinement of authoritarian reason, is through art
and philosophy - through Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Van Gogh.